Reporter struck with police pepper ball during Louisville protest

June 17, 2020

Louisville Courier-Journal reporter Billy Kobin was struck with a pepper ball fired by police while covering a protest on the morning of June 17, 2020.

Demonstrators had been marching daily since late May in response to the killing of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman who was shot dead by police on March 13. The May 28 release of the 911 call Taylor’s boyfriend made after the shooting, as well as the May 25 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis that sparked nationwide anger, stoked protests in Louisville, Kentucky.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker is documenting arrests, assaults and other obstructions to journalists covering these protests across the country against police violence and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

On that Wednesday, June 17, protesters had started blocking downtown Louisville roads at about 7 a.m. according to the Courier-Journal, prompting police intervention.

Kobin told the Tracker that the situation was “more tense than normal,” as a small group of protesters repeatedly got into confrontations with police, who occasionally fired pepper balls at the ground in an attempt to disperse the crowd.

Kobin said he was watching a confrontation between protesters and police on Liberty Street between Sixth and Seventh Streets when police began firing pepper balls. He turned to head back to Jefferson Square Park, the main protest square around the corner. As he tried to leave the area, he said he was struck in the rear with a pepper ball.

“More pepper bullets came out. One hit me in the butt. #ouch,” he wrote on Twitter.

Kobin said he was wearing a high-visibility vest with “PRESS” markings on it and also had his press credentials displayed. However, he said he didn’t believe he was targeted.

“I think it was just sort of a stray pepper bullet,” he said, adding the pepper ball stung when it hit him but didn’t leave an injury.

Louisville Metro Police Department didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected]

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